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Dersingham Folk
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The Old Dun Cow, She's Done For Now
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
The Dun Cow was thatched at one time but it is seen here in 1905 with its roof clad in traditional Norfolk pantiles. There used to be a pond in the farmyard to the left of the picture and Mr D. Reynolds recalled that a Mr Courtney built a boat and put it on the pond.
Yes indeed!  The Old Dun Cow, she’s done for now.
On August 4th 2014 it was one hundred years since the start of World War 1, the war to end wars, or so they thought. We have only to
look at the War Memorial to see how many young men of this village made the supreme sacrifice in the mud and hell that was the
battleground. In 1915 many Norfolk men served at Gallipoli against the Turks. Sir Ian Hamilton sent a report back concerning one attack
which involved the 1/5 Norfolk regiment. He reported that they were on the right of the line and found themselves less strongly opposed than
the rest. Colonel Sir H. Beauchamp led the men forward as the fighting grew hotter and the ground became wooded and broken. Many men
were wounded or exhausted with thirst in the intense heat but with sixteen officers and 250 men the Colonel pushed on driving the enemy
before them. Sir Ian records, “Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight and
sound. Not one ever came back.”
These men included Captain Frank Beck the Land Agent at
Sandringham and a company made up of men from this area who
worked on the estate with him. In Sept 1919 one hundred and
eighty of their bodies were located 800 yards behind the Turkish
lines. I have no doubt that in the days before these attacks all the
men found comradeship and humour despite the harrowing
conditions. We have all heard the songs popular at the time that
lifted the men’s spirits. Just off shore from the landing area the
steamer River Clyde that had been used to ferry troops and
supplies ashore had run aground and was beached on a
sandbank. The troops nicknamed her The Old Dun Cow a
reference to a song popular at the time that contained the words
"The Old Dun Cow, She’s done for now”. The Old Dun Cow in
question being a Public House that had run dry. This would have
had particular significance for any soldiers from Dersingham and
would have brought back fond memories of home. Perhaps they
were the ones who initiated the nickname for newcomers to this
village may not know when they shop at Budgen’s Supermarket that the whole area where they shop and park their cars was the site of The
Dun Cow Public House and Farm. Originally there was a long two storey carstone cottage adjoining a much larger barn and cattle yards
with a low stone wall to the right, part of which still remains today. On the opposite side of the narrow road were two farm cottages that still
stand today.
In the 18th century many Turnpike roads were constructed and an Act of Parliament was passed in 1768 for”widening the roads from East
Gate to Gayton, Grimston and to the north end of Babingley Lane”. The Act directed that the road should run “from the said Wootton Gaps
through the parish of Castle Rising to the South end of a certain other bridge called Babingley Bridge in Babingley and from the North End of
the same bridge to the North End of Babingley Lane in Babingley.”
Some years later in 1811 in the reign of George III a
further act was passed for repairing the road from the
East Gate of King’s Lynn to Babingley Lane and
then "to extend the road thence to Darsingham in
the County of Norfolk.” The Act went on to note that
the road through Babingley, Wolferton and
Sandringham to the sign of The Dun Cow
Darsingham was much out of repair, incommodious,
and dangerous for travellers. It argued the case for
the amending, widening, improving, and keeping in
repair through the parishes of Babingley, Wolferton,
Sandringham to the sign of The Dun Cow
Darsingham. However, there were to be no tolls
charged on the road from Babingley to the sign of
The Dun Cow Darsingham but £950 was subscribed
to pay for the expenses incurred. Bryant’s Map of
Norfolk in 1826 plots this road with the end of the
Turnpike at The Dun Cow clearly noted.
A Commercial Directory of 1830 records Robert
West as the Proprietor of The Dun Cow Inn and in
1836 he is recorded as Victualler and Farmer of The
Dun Cow with one John Wells as manager. The Tithe
Map of 1839 shows the Inn clearly and the land on the right down to Manor Road is named Cow Close and so the road we think of as Lynn
Road was known as Cow Lane well into the last century. From the census of 1851 we know that John Waters was farming six acres there
and employing three labourers. He lived with his wife Ann, three daughters Mary Anne, Maria and Margaret aged six, and three sons Robert,
George and Samuel. Emily Denny from Congham was employed as a House Servant.
So already this was a well established farm and Inn of many years but
how did it get its name?
It is linked to an English hero of legend and romance Guy of Warwick.
His exploits were first written down by an Anglo-Norman poet of the
12th century. Guy was the son of Siward, steward of Roland Earl of
Warwick and the story tells of the exploits he undertakes to win the
hand of the Earl’s daughter Phelis. He performs great deeds abroad,
rescues the daughter of the Emperor of Germany, fights the Saracens
and slays the Sultan. He returns to England and marries Phelis but
after fifty days he sets off on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I don’t quite
know what that tells us of the marriage but no matter Guy is after all a
hero who must go on to other deeds of prowess. It is when he returns
to England that the Dun Cow enters the picture. The Dun Cow was a
savage beast that the fable says belonged to a giant and was kept on
Mitchell Fold Shropshire. The cow’s milk was inexhaustible but one
day an old woman who had filled her pail with milk wanted to fill her
sieve as well. This so enraged the cow that she broke loose from the fold and went on the rampage over Dunmore Heath. Enter our hero
Guy of Warwick. Ta-Ra! After a fierce duel he slays the savage beast and saves the local people from death and disaster. I have read that a
huge tusk, probably of an elephant, is still shown at Warwick Castle as one of the horns of the cow. Has anyone seen this? As for Guy after
this he became a hermit near Warwick and regularly begged for bread from his wife at his own castle gate. On his death bed he sent her a
ring by which she recognized him and went to close his dying eyes!
After Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485 and
became King Henry V11 he returned to London in triumph. Four
hundred and thirty five worthy citizens of the city rode to meet him
and Henry led the procession through the city to St. Paul’s. There
he offered up the three ragged standards that he had carried during
the battle as a statement of his divine right to rule. The standards
were the Arms of St. George, a red fiery dragon painted upon green
and white sarcenet and a banner of Tarteron beaten with an image of
The Dun Cow. He probably used the Dun Cow banner as an
assertion of his claim to the Beaufort line and thus his right to the
throne. The Beauforts claimed descent from our hero Guy of
Warwick and Lady Margaret Beaufort was descended from John of
Gaunt son of Edward III.
By 1864 after her husband John died his wife Anne Waters ran the
pub and the farm for some years until John Smith is recorded in
1874 as the proprietor and farmer. He and his wife Catherine were host and hostess until sometime in the 1890s. I always enjoy finding a
reference that brings these villagers of times gone by to life. In early 1899 Catherine Smith died and the Parish Magazine recorded that
John and Catherine could talk of the years before The Prince of Wales came to Sandringham and that to them the names of Henley, Motteux
and Cowper previous owners of the estate were as familiar as household words. The obituary continues, “Kate, as many friends and
admirers of the goodhearted and voluble hostess liked to call her, was with her husband lovingly cared for in their later years at the house of
their daughter.” After John and Catherine retired one of the longest serving landlords took over, Thomas Augustus Magness. By 1896 the
village businesses were beginning to realize the benefits they could gain from the railway and particularly the proximity of the Royal Family.
William Henry Mann at The Feathers was already advertising “ good stabling for
hunters, and first class accommodation for visitors in the neighbourhood;
conveyances to meet any train at Wolferton or Dersingham” Theodor Jannoch was
advertising his nursery at The Old Hall as the largest grower of Lily of the Valley
in England with a special warrant to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. So Thomas
Magness not to be outdone states in his adverts “Seaside visitors can have good
accommodation close to Sandringham.”
Thomas ran the Dun Cow throughout the early traumatic years of the Twentieth
Century. He was there when Victoria died and he contributed 2s 6d towards the
cost of the medals presented to the children as part of the celebrations for the
coronation of Edward V11. He would have taken part in the celebrations for the
coronation of George V and no doubt joined his regulars in the discussions over
the First World War, and the awful events of 1916 when the Zeppelin dropped
bombs on Doddshill and the marshes. He was there throughout the twenties and was certainly still the host in 1933. It was in 1937 that
John Brett Billing is recorded as the proprietor. It was also at this time that a massive change was to take place.
I am grateful to Dick Melton for helping me narrow down the
date for the upheaval. Dick’s father was posted overseas in
1936 but when he returned to the village in1939 the old Dun
Cow Pub that he had always known was gone and in its place
stood new modern Dun Cow. So in about December 1938 the
villagers watched as the new modern Dun Cow replaced the
familiar old pub as seen here on the right. Down came the long
carstone cottage Inn, down came the cattle sheds and the
farmyard pond disappeared beneath the rubble; I wonder what
they thought of it all? I can imagine the furore if it happened
I was told many years ago by a Dersingham resident that there
had been a bad fire at the old Dun Cow which would explain the
demolition. But at the time of writing I have been unable to
verify this. Nevertheless this new modern Dun Cow
successfully served the village for many years. During the
Second World War it was recorded as a First Aid Station and was a close witness to the devastating floods of 1953 as it looked out over the
marshes towards the Wash.
The viw above is as the Dun Cow could be seen from The Drift in 1988 before the new housing was constructed on the Mountbatten Estate. Dick tells me that in the 1970s David Buck became the youngest ever Landlord at just 21 years of age. But it was in 1993 that it ceased trading and stood with its windows boarded up for some time. Rumours abounded as to what was planned. A Nursing Home? Flats? As we know the Pub was demolished and Budgens Supermarket was built. The area is still a hub of activity for the village as the Supermarket provides a valuable if different service to that of the Pub. Many villagers will remember new modern Dun Cow but the numbers of those who remember the original old buildings and farm are small and becoming smaller every year. Soon we will just have the old photographs and a very small section of curving wall to remind us of what once was there. See below for a slide show of the Dun Cow being demolished and construction of Budgen store in 1994/5.
As with this pleasant water-colour of the original Dun Cow pub few dates or origins of the images used here are known as they were acquired from Dersingham residents over a number of years.
Comment from Dick Melton
When we moved into Lynn Road it was called Dun Cow Lane (or just Cow Lane from a postcard; Ed); it was a very busy road, as the by-pass was not built until 1990 so all the traffic used this road. Just after the Second World War it was the second busiest road in England in the summer months, the busiest road being London to Brighton. Most of the houses in Lynn Road were built around 1900 though a few were built later. The Dun Cow was pulled down in the Nineties, though there had been a public house on the site since around 1800.  The Dun Cow was just one of the pubs that put up a team for the Ingoldisthorpe and District Cribbage League. 

Dun Cow demolition
Dun Cow demolition
Dun Cow demolition
Dun Cow demolition
Dun Cow demolition
Dun Cow demolition
Budgen build
Budgen build
Budgen build
Budgen build
Budgen build
Budgen build
Plaque recognising the Dun Cow now Budgen
Budgen build